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California and the West

Police Suspect Extortion Scheme in Gruesome Slayings of 5 People

Violence: Authorities say a botched plot resulted in the deaths of an elderly couple, guitarist Elvin Bishop's daughter, his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

August 11, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA and RICHARD CHON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CONCORD, Calif. — A bungled plot to extort $100,000 from a retired Bay Area couple led to the slayings of five people, including the daughter and ex-wife of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, authorities said Thursday.

Detectives are trying to re-create the final days of 22-year-old Selina Bishop, whose dismembered body was retrieved this week from the Sacramento River Delta.

At the center of the investigation is Selina Bishop's relationship with her boyfriend Glenn Helzer, a former stockbroker suspected of killing the young waitress, her mother and three other people.

Investigators said Thursday they suspect that Helzer, his brother and a woman who lived with them schemed to extort money from Ivan and Annette Stineman, an elderly Concord couple for whom Helzer once worked as a stockbroker. The couple's remains also were found in the river this week.

Last week, someone claiming to be Selina Bishop called a Contra Costa County bank, trying to cash checks written from the Stinemans' account, police said.

"Obviously she had a relationship with these people," Concord Police Lt. Paul Crain said of the suspects. "We're trying to understand exactly what her involvement was, and at what point she became a victim."

The Stinemans--Ivan, 85, and Annette, 78--vanished Aug. 3. Their minivan was later found abandoned with a chain saw and sawhorse inside, police said.

Selina Bishop also was last seen Aug. 3, after telling friends she was heading to Yosemite National Park with her boyfriend.

On Thursday, family and friends talked about the energetic young woman who worked as a waitress at the Two Bird Cafe in rural Marin County and kept in close touch with her guitarist father.

Friends described Selina Bishop as a sensible woman who often baby-sat for her father's 12-year-old daughter from a second marriage and attended his concerts when he was in town.

"Elvin really loved Selina," said family friend Jani Reilly, whose husband, Mike, once played guitar in Bishop's band. "They had a wonderful relationship. Elvin lived in the same town with Selina and his ex-wife."

At the Two Bird Cafe, two waitresses showing up Thursday for the 10:30 a.m. shift Selina sometimes worked embraced silently, their eyes brimming with tears.

Cafe owner Tony Miceli said Selina Bishop worked at the cafe for eight months after arriving from Pennsylvania, but he and other workers offered few details.

"Now that she's not coming back, we don't see what that could do to help," said a waitress named Carrie.

This week, police recovered eight gym bags filled with body parts from the Sacramento River Delta. The victims have tentatively been identified as Selina Bishop and the Stinemans.

Concord police investigators said they suspect the deaths are linked to the slayings of Elvin Bishop's ex-wife, Jennifer Villarin, 45, and James Gamble, 54, her boyfriend. Villarin and Gamble were shot to death Aug. 3 in Selina Bishop's studio apartment.

Helzer, 30, who had been dating Selina Bishop for several months, was arrested Monday on suspicion of burglary, robbery and other charges. Also in custody is his brother Justin Helzer, 28, and roommate Dawn Godman, 26.

Police said murder charges are pending against the three, who were being held without bail. Investigators said Glenn Helzer, a neighbor of the Stinemans' who had done financial work for them, had a motive to target the couple.

"It seems to us to be more than mere coincidence that Glenn Helzer was a stockbroker advising the Stinemans at some point in the past," said Harold Jewett, a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney. "That for us is a motive."

The case has gripped the Bay Area since Aug. 3, when the bodies of Villarin and Gamble were found at Selina Bishop's apartment in the Marin County community of Woodacre. Police said the couple was house-sitting for Selina Bishop.

That same day, Ivan and Annette Stineman were reported missing. On Aug. 6, the couple's white minivan was found in an industrial area of Oakland with the keys still in the ignition. Police said fingerprints identified as belonging to Justin Helzer and Dawn Godman were later found inside the van.

On Monday, police raided Glenn Helzer's home and found Ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms and other drugs, along with evidence linking the Helzer brothers and Godman to the Stineman slayings, investigators said.

Glenn Helzer fled through a back door and was arrested after breaking into a neighbor's home, taking a woman hostage and commandeering a knife and scissors, Jewett said.

Police on Monday also began recovering the first of eight gym bags filled with body parts. They said many of the bags were weighted with rocks but nonetheless floated to the surface of the murky Mokelumne River northeast of Antioch.

In the final months of Selina Bishop's life, investigators say, the waitress had been infatuated with Glenn Helzer, whom she often met for drinks at a Berkeley pub.

Matt King, manager of the Bison Brewing Company, described them as "kind of a boyfriend and girlfriend . . . not into drugs or heavy parties."

On their last visit to the pub, King recalled that Helzer was late and a frustrated Bishop confided to him over a beer. "Looking back, it was haunting," King said. "She said, 'I don't know why I even go out with him.' "

*

Times staff writer Richard Croemelin contributed to this story.

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